“...The straitjackets of race prejudice and discrimination do not wear only southern labels. The subtle, psychological technique of the North has approached in its ugliness and victimization of the Negro the outright terror and open brutality of the South.”
            ― Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Why We Can't Wait (Beacon Press, 2011)

                      this       here       the      cradle      of      this      here
                      nation—everywhere  you   look,  roots   run   right
                      back  south.  every  vein filled with red dirt, blood,
                      cotton.   we   the   dirty  word  you  spit  out   your
                      mouth.  mason  dixon  is  an  imagined  line—you
                      can  theorize  it, or wish it real, but  it’s  the  same
                      old  ghost—see-through,   benign.   all   y’all  from
                      alabama;  we  the wheel  turning  cotton  to make
                      the nation move. we the scapegoat in a land built
                      from death. no longitude or latitude disproves
                      the truth of founding fathers’ sacred oath:
                                 we hold these truths like dark snuff in our jaw,
                                 Black oppression’s not happenstance; it’s law.

Copyright © 2020 by Ashley M. Jones. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 17, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

after June Jordan

Nightly my enemies feast on my comrades
like maggots on money. Money being my enemy

as plastic is my enemy. My enemy everywhere
and in my home as wifi is

a money for me to reach my comrades
and kills my house plants. My enemy

is distance growing dark, distance growing
politely in my pocket as connection.

I must become something my enemies can’t eat, don’t have
a word for yet, my enemies being literate as a drone is

well-read and precise and quiet, as when I buy something
such as a new computer with which to sing against my enemies,
there is my enemy, silent and personal.

Copyright © 2020 by Taylor Johnson. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 18, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Lord—
Your good daughter I have been
my whole life.

I’ve kept your house
clean as sucked bone,

starved myself of everything
your other children have told me is sin.

I’ve sharpened my teeth on the slate
of your Word for your work’s sake.

Bridled the glint of my tongue
so men will feel strong

and not be seen trembling
under the soft of it.

I’ve behaved

and for what
do I hunger, myself growing slight
on tomorrow’s meat:

words, words, your words
as valued here as Black credit
at an all-American bank.

They say, Lord, piety is speaking to you,
but madness is hearing you

speak back. And under this,
like all good jokes lies
the truth: no one

in this equation seems to be listening
anyway. To you, to our own damned selves.
Tell me

how many Black girls
does it take to change a mind,
or a home           or a block
or a scale            or a heart
or a course          or a country?

You, Lord, as you have
with your other minor prophets,
have dragged—or is it called us

up the mountain, where in the thin air
there are those who got here
long before I ever dreamed of it,

still waiting on you
to finally cash this check.

Copyright © 2020 by Natasha Oladokun. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 20, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

Maggot & Mosquito mother infectious
encounters. Call home to the fen. Flooding
makes a marsh and unhouses the land.
I picture skin, inch by inch conversion
to new flesh. Without medicine i’ve seen the body
be made a speedy disposal. Dejected ground.
Profitable & prosper both contain pro.
Prospero Prospero Prospero.
I too have made incantation
of the man’s name
who gave me a borrowed tongue.
He planted a flag & dispensed
what made up his brain. Start
small & end larger. Expansion
is a uniform my lineage can’t shirk.
The water is enclosing, body
thinning in a baptism of English.
I could say that colonialism was a disease,
but that would suggest a cure.

Copyright © 2020 by Nabila Lovelace. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 21, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

after Alexander Pushkin

Did anyone ever ask any one of Nikita’s daughters
if they wanted a vagina from the devil’s basket.
conjured by a witch and stored with so little ice.
an organ that had been ridden cross-country on
horseback. had no mind of its own and had flown
up into the trees with all thirty-nine to get stuck up
in the leaves. Clearly not queer at all given that it flew
down at the site of any old whatsit. and furthermore
not even to fuck it, just to crawl back into a box
like the whatsit wanted of the crew of thingums. Witch
only knows how many grimy fingers the poor things
endured. No one asked the tzar’s daughters
if they wouldn’t rather be holeless, lipless and better
unbewitched by devil and hag and flasher
envoy and kingly pop than to lift their skirts
to anyone wanting to see what was missing. or unmissed.

Copyright © 2020 by francine j. harris. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 24, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

“I’m gonna put on an iron shirt and chase the devil out of earth.”
            — Lee “Scratch” Perry and Max Romeo

Side A.

The devil I see is the one I saw and nail out of fears   out of cycles of wound   dread calcifying into prophecy    I put on an iron shirt to face it chase it but the cop still piss drunk with power I put on an iron shirt but the men on the street surveil the nipple   been hounding my punani since             before I spilled my first blood   what a menace of a body   I hurl blame to the husk   is the devil real or is it of my fantastical making  the answer is not the matter   the fact of paranoia be the true violence   warfare: the very presence of the question        I want to peer inward   to take a good look at the soundsystem     my heartbeat echoing out of my folkloric thirst   my desperate belief in other realities   a B-side where I’m abolished from emotional labor aka black woman’s burden  free to surrender to my own madness  to sink down into the dub of it   stripped of my first voice   reverbing outside the pain of a body—



Side B.

            stripped of my first voice    

 

                                               down in the dub            cop hounds my blood    

into paranoia           a black reality            

 

                                                                      cycles spilled    

 

                 power husked   
                                                                                         emotional woman I   I

I iron                            real street               folkloric and mad  
                                                                                       tr tr trrrruuuueeee  

 

take a good look at the devil

                                                     peer into the dread   

men surrender to wound: drunk        calcified                                          but I   

                        fantastic                 
                                                          chasing echoes       

 

 nailed to system                                            free in sound

 

                                        I       a fact      

 


                                                             answer of my own making


 

*To read this poem in its intended format, please view from a desktop. 

Copyright © 2020 by Desiree C. Bailey. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 25, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

             1.
Pained as he was when he gazed 
upon his father’s face, he held his gaze.

             2.
Toward what he’d never known, he walked,
somehow both arrogant & begging.

The purple of his father’s robes, like a bruise. 

             3.
As a river, over time, can forge
a way through stone, so
absence bore through him,
leaving a valley where his voice
echoes off the canyon walls. 

             4.
His mind had narrowed until all it held
was an idea of father, until so fixed on the idea
his mind seemed under siege. Inside him hummed
a longing, one he felt compelled to fix, so named it ​flaw.

             5.
What the boy wanted:
to finally know his father’s face.
Evidence, at last, of his origin. 

             6.
Felt within, a longing.
Felt and therefore knew
a weakness he wanted to master. 

             7.
A desire to know, and a belief
he deserved to,

these were the human parts of him.

             8. 
Fiery, Dawnsteed, Scorcher, Blaze–

the horses the father owned,

the horses the father, knowing he would fail, let his son steer–

             9.
is this devotion?

             10.
To master, control, rein in;
hoping this might prove him 
a man, perhaps, a god.

             11.
There are gaps knowing cannot fill.

             12.
What boy has not dreamt himself a noble son,
has not prematurely thought himself a man?

             13.
                           He lost control of the reins
& the horses did what one expects
from animals whose lives had always been 
tightly squeezed between two fists:

             14.
breaking from the path they’d always known,

             15.
they galloped nearer to that world from which they’d been kept, 

             16.
not out of malice but a kind of mercy

             17.
for the world the father feared the horses would destroy.

             18.
Finding himself at the mercy of what he’d sought–

             19.
gone too far to turn back, gone far beyond his father now
with further still to go, ignorant of the names
of the horses behind whom he was now dragged like the tail
of a comet hurtling toward earth, as in all directions
he sees the destruction he’d caused:

the flames licking trees at their roots, licking
dry the ocean’s mouth, licking the faces
of each living thing until they’d turned to ash,

until the world without grew hotter than the world within,
until a dizzying heat rose from the soil, until in his feet

             20.
the boy could feel the world ablaze–

             21.
free me from these reins
he cried perhaps to god, 
perhaps to father, 

             22.
the difference indecipherable, more or less insignificant

             23.
for even though he’d met him, the boy still knew himself

             24.
fatherless, godless, no less abandoned than he’d been.

             25.
The world to which, for better or worse, he once belonged, now gone, 

             26.
he belonged nowhere… 

             27.
To save what could be saved, to salvage what had not been lost,
to punish his failure to master what no other ever had: the boy

             28.
was struck dead & buried

             29.
beside a river, which began again to flow toward the distant mouth 

             30.
out of which, it would finally empty.

Copyright © 2020 by Jeremy Michael Clark. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 26, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

the return of poem to be read from right to left

"[for] when you are ready
to follow a tendency of anonymous feathers
—Zaina Alsous

say i ،well
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AM I
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            “ ”

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                        “ ”

            “ ”

                        “ ”
؟real who
؟free who
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؟free who

r           e           a           l           who

؟free who



*This poem is best viewed on desktop.


“Sun Ra’s consistent statement, musically and spoken, is that this is a primitive world. Its practices, beliefs, religions, are uneducated, unenlightened, savage, destructive, already in the past. . . .That’s why Sun Ra returned only to say he left. Into the Future. Into Space.” —Amiri Baraka

Instead of an Arabic footnote, here is a list of artists who inspire, and were with me in the making of this poem...and so much more (in some kind of order of appearance): Kameelah Janan Rasheed, Elmaz Abinader, Suheir Hammad, Toni Morrison, Tavonne S. Carson, Ava Duvernay, Solmaz Sharif, Monica Sok, Justin Phillip Reed, Xandria Phillips, Charleen McClure, Nabila Lovelace, Ashley M. Jones, Danez Smith, René Magritte, Jay Deshpande, José Olivarez, Jonah Mixon-Webster, The Desert Crew, Fred Moten, John Rufo, S*ean D. Henry-Smith, Andrea Abi-Karam, Belal Mobarak, Jess Rizkallah, Hayan Charara, Randa Jarrar, Zaina Alsous, Roberto Montes, James Baldwin, Mo Browne, Audre Lorde, Adrian Piper, Evie Shockley, Airea D. Matthews, Tyehimba Jess, Harryette Mullen, Safia Elhillo, Ricardo Maldonado, Mejdulene B. Shomali, Philip Metres, and Raymond Antrobus. Shokran.

“The word Black, has geographic power, pulls everybody in:” —Gwendolyn Brooks, Primer for Blacks

 

Copyright © 2020 by Marwa Helal. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 27, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.

I want to believe Don West
when he writes: none of mine

ever made their living by driving slaves.
But in my grandfather’s mouth that utterance

would’ve taken on another meaning:
In the memory my mother shares,

he is flitting across Louisville
in his taxi, passing back-and-forth

like a cardinal, red-faced, proud-breasted,
delivering Black folks their dry cleaning—

had to, she tells me, as part of his route—
but once he started his second shift and turned

on the cab light, he wouldn’t accept
Black fare. I recall him reciting

the early presidents’
racist pseudoscience—American

at its liver—to rationalize his hatred
of my father, his denial

of my Blackness. That denial a peril
I survived, a cliff he could have driven me over

at any moment of my childhood. Maybe,
I want to think, because they were poor men

who labored, farmed tobacco and dug for oil,
my grandfather’s people resisted

slavery, felt a kinship with my father’s people.
Or that because my grandfather

was one of eleven mouths to feed
on their homestead—reduced to dirt

across the Great Depression—
he had a white identity to be proud of, a legacy

that didn’t join our names
in a bill of sale, but in struggle.

I search his surname and it travels
back to Germany, appears

on the deed to the house he inherited,
retired and died in, poor-white resentment

inflaming his stomach and liver.
But when I search the name I share with my father,

my only inheritance                      disappears
into the 19th century, sixth generation:

my ancestor bred
to produce 248 offspring

for his owner, from whence comes
our family name. Mr. West, here

we are different. Here, is where
my grandfather found his love for me discordant

as the voice of the dead whispering
history. Here is where we are connected,

not by class, but blood & slavery.

Copyright © 2020 by Joy Priest. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on August 28, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.